This has been an absolutely insane week of eating. It's almost ludicrous to think of what entered my belly in the past seven days. I started and ended my week with a fire-blistered, tomato smeared, thin-crust pizza at Spacca Napoli, 1769 W. Sunnyside Ave. Not only is the pizza incredible and the cappuccino out of this world, but the owner, Jonathan, treats each table with care (even joining in a much-needed limoncello shot). But that was just the bookends. Here's what a week in the life of a food writer looks like:
In the span of seven days, I managed to try several new restaurants, CornerStone Cafe, 2753 N. Western Ave., among them. A sunny breakfast/lunch spot, I waltzed in after it had been open four scant days. Though the kitchen has a few kinks to work out, the thick, made-to-order oatmeal (served with heavy whipping cream and brown sugar) and fluffy pancakes are worth going back for (as I did with friends on Saturday). It's like your grandma's warm country kitchen, but with a suspended flat-screen TV instead of a static-emitting radio.
I revisited neighborhood favorite Tony's Burrito Mex, 1957 W. Belmont Ave., after a long day of work mid-week. This bite-size Mexican haunt is always good for fantastic (and cheap) chile rellenos, cheesy quesadillas, warm chips, homemade salsa and great pork tacos. It also serves some rockin' French fries with nacho cheese sauce, best eaten by the fistful and washed down with a thick glass of horchata.
The grand opening sign flapping around outside Carthage Cafe, 3446 W. Foster Ave., caught my eye as I was cruising down Foster Avenue. The new Mediterranean eatery and hookah lounge was deserted, save for the table full of rotating cabbies (that's when you know you're on to something). Being that it's in a remote strip mall, it might take some time before business picks up.
The food was fantastic, though, and the prices crazy cheap (everything is less than $8). Smoky baba ghannouj, lemony hummus, garlicky spinach, red-pepper heavy musaka, golf ball-size falafel, super-fresh salad with big chunks of feta and olives, and warm pita bread made for a delightful vegetarian lunch.
I made my way up to Argyle Street on Friday for some hyper-fresh Vietnamese and Laotian food at Cafe Nhu-Hoa, 1020 W. Argyle St. The been-there-forever vibe was like taking the slow boat through Asia via the mighty Mekong, and I could go on and on about the crisp goi cuon, tidy rice paper rolls stuffed with fresh basil, poached shrimp, vermicelli noodles and bean sprouts. The crab rangoon came out perfectly crisp and a half-dozen to the order (yes, I did eat them all).
The Imperial eggroll entree came to my table as a gigantic platter full of petite ground shrimp and crab eggrolls; you take an eggroll, plop it down on a firm piece of lettuce and pack it with fresh mint, basil, cilantro, shaved cucumber, slivered carrots and bean sprouts. Then you roll it up tight and slip it into the bowl of sweet nuoc mam, a delicious fermented fish sauce. I had about three full rolls before I was stuffed beyond belief.
Now imagine this: This partial eating list of mine doesn't include all the Chicago-style hole-in-the-wall dive bars I frequented this week. No, friends, that's a whole other rave all together.
The Final Rave: I also had brunch at the much-praised Italian cafe and grocery Terragusto. Though the food was right on, the prices were inflated and the portions so small, it's hard to justify this place as more than a once-in-a-blue moon kinda joint.
Keep it going:
Play it: HotHouse
This live-music haven keeps the crowds coming back with a slew of international musicians gettin' busy week after week. Check the website for the performance schedule.
Drink it: Mi Ciudad
It has recently come to my attention that one of my favorite Ecuadorain restaurants doles out a hell of a mixed drink called an Espiritu sour. It also serves unbelievable cheesy corn cakes.
Eat it: J-Thai Sushi Bar & Thai Cuisine
This cavernous BYOB spot is a new addition to the Southport dining scene and was the perfect place to cap off my week of trying new places. The ebi (shrimp) tempura is near perfect.
Get crazy with it: Warjihouse, Bali
To truly get off the beaten path, head to this magical island in the middle of the South Pacific. I cashed in a bunch of frequent flier miles and am headed there in a few weeks for, what else, a whole new take on food. Plus, it's beyond cheap. Beachside lodging? $10 or less a night.
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.